Potent as whisky, wild as the desert, and fiery as all hell, Crimson House Blues was formed in the arid wilderness of Namibia and comes to South Africa with enough grit and heart to bring the blues to an African audience. Starting from a background of metal, they've kept that raw power and expanded their musical horizons in order to share with audiences from every background. Fiercely independent, they've managed to stay true to their artistic vision while garnering massive support from fans. After a promising 2011 debut supported by legendary SA blues artists, and an album that has been met with passionate approval, they're set to perform at Rolling Stone Weekend along with other up-and-coming SA bands. Rolling Stone talked to Redeye Riaan, (vocalist), and Arno van Zyl (banjo and lead guitar) about their defiant spirit, making a home for blues in Africa, and just having a damn good time.
Blues is traditionally a very American style. How do you make that work as Africans, for an African audience?
Riaan: Well, at the end of the day we draw on our influences. And our influences are mostly American, because that's what we get to hear. If we got to hear more local music we'd be more influenced by that.
Arno: I also think it's how you relate to it. We relate to their music, but we don't have to necessarily copy what they do. Same vibe, same idea, but make it your own.
So, you're looking to build up more appreciation for blues in Africa?
Riaan: Oh, hopefully! What we're really trying to do is bring good music to the people, music that seemed to be dead, but it can't die, it just needs people to play it. And we have a lot of South African influences too. Boulevard Blues, Sixgun Gospel - we see them every day, fighting that struggle.
Can you tell us more about the move from metal to blues?
Arno: I sat down once a long time ago, found a blues scale, and I really liked it. At the time I was playing in a metal band which I really still enjoy. It's just something different, but the same amount of fun.
Riaan: It's also a way to unleash anger, and we do that with the blues. We shout and growl and feel it.
Arno: It also doesn't necessarily have to be a bad feeling. Sometimes it just feels really good.
Riaan: The transition for me was that I wanted to be a musician but you can't exactly shout at everyone and expect to make a living. There are so many beautiful sounds out there and we wanted to explore that. What's nice about blues is it's such a broad term. We do country, rock, metal, funk.
You've been offered numerous record deals but you turned them down. Why?
Riaan: Well, they act like a bank, they say we'll give you money to make an album, but then you have to pay us back. You look at what they'll offer us, and we'd be in debt. So we find a publisher like Sheer and they'll take care of everything but they don't tell us how to look, how to play, who to be. Most of that system is pretty much entrapment.
A lot of what you do is in that spirit of defiance and independence.
Arno: [Laughs] Sticking it to the man. I guess nobody really knows what you want except you, so keep it in your own hands and be sure about what you do instead of blindly following somebody else just for the sake of the name.
On your Facebook page you say your interest is "the breakdown of civilization and negation of civil class."
Arno: The way I would try to put it is coming across as very serious but actually just having a good time with it. Taking the piss, so to speak, putting a spanner in the works.
Riaan: The way the music industry is, everything tries to seem so polished. There's this shiny image of a band, when actually we're just having a damn good time. And everyone relates to the feeling, because blues is really more of a feeling than it is a style of music. Our mission really is to produce good music we'd want to hear. We play the music that suits the vibe, the audience. We cater our sets to wherever we are. We don't come there with a plan, we make it as we get there.
Arno: Make everybody else feel good because we feel good.
Riaan: Or feel down because we feel down. The idea is that there shouldn't be a separation between crowd and band. We're really like a bunch of mechanics doing a public service. We cater to our audience's needs. It doesn't necessarily mean we change ourselves, just the vibe.
You can see Crimson House Blues live at the Mercury and Shack complex at Rolling Stone Weekend between 14 and 16 September in Cape Town. Here's 4 of the other acts, 4 more and the DJ's that will also be performing at Rolling Stone Weekend.